By Jessica Beer, Sean Carberry, Rebekah Evans, and Gordon Perry
The Stars Beneath Our Feet. A boy attempts to find his way through life in the aftermath of a serious family tragedy. Lolly’s brother has died in a gang-related shooting, his parents have recently divorced, and he is having trouble navigating interactions with local gangs. That is when he is given a gift that will change his life: two bags of Legos. Lolly has always prided himself on his ability to follow the instructions that come with kits, but he’s now facing a new challenge. What do you build when you’re given no directions?
As he finds his way through the projects, pressured to join local gangs, like his brother, he finds that he must forge his own path forward. Through community engagement, and his own creativity, he learns to build his own bridges over the troubled waters ahead.
David Barclay Moore gives us a window into a world seldom seen. He shows us a picture of a boy affected by grief, dealing with tragedy and potential violence, and shows us how Lolly’s creativity and strength of character allows him to create his own future.
Empathy and Dealing With Loss
Lesson Plans by Theme
During the course of the story, Lolly finds himself confronted with a series of personal issues, and must make choices. One of the main themes that runs throughout this novel is acceptance; accepting others despite their differences. This is an important piece of this story as it is this acceptance that gives Lolly his potentially for growth.
Activate prior knowledge about diversity by exploring the words different and similar
Gain knowledge by learning what the term diversity means
Apply and further that knowledge in whole-class discussions about diversity
Demonstrate comprehension and practice writing skills by talking about diversity
The main focus of this section is going to be discussing the idea of acceptance. So to start, I would have the students watch this video on accepting others.
The topics that Cole discusses are concerned primarily with making the choice to accept others.
Introduce the topic of diversity by drawing students' attention to their differences and similarities. You can present four or five criteria statements for the class to consider and ask students to stand up in groups. Some examples of criteria statements are:
All the 6-year-olds stand up
Everyone wearing tennis shoes stand up
If you like baseball stand up
Stand up if you have any freckles on your skin
Ask students if they can think of other differences that the criteria statements did not address. Why is it important to share these differences? What can these differences help us understand about each other?
Write the word diversity on the board and ask students if they know what it means. Jot down their responses working toward the following definition: Being different from each other. The section should be leading a discussion. Questions for discussion may include:
Do you know anyone who is like the characters in this book?
Which, if any, of these characters is like you?
After reading the book, ask students to share their thoughts and ideas about what makes us all different and what makes us the same.
In regards to community, the novel addresses many distinct perspectives to acknowledge the wide array of identities that we hold. These communities include the black community, the LGBT community, family, and gang life. The various groupings are met with different challenges and are built on disparate focuses; such as race, sexual orientation, your role within a family, etc..
What we find is that the novel attempts to address these identifications all at once. If we start to single these groups out and study them further, we will find that they all engage in differing enterprises that defines who they are as members of these communities. If we take a closer look at these definitions of identity, we are able to come to a better understanding of where they come from and why their recognition is vital.
Identify as many communities as possible within the novel.
Try to be as specific and as general as possible. This could range from “human” to “family member.”
What are the unique challenges and situations these communities face?
How are they unique in relation to one another?
What does the book say about these challenges and uniqueness?
Perhaps design a diagram that may display how these challenges might intersect.
Discuss what fuels the gang community and the desire for gang activity? What does this say about the need for community? How does the book display the gang allure?
The students can describe the various communities they identify with. The instructor can document these on the board to not only give the students a multifaceted understanding of identity, but also as a way to better engage with their peers. They can decide whether the book addresses those identifications, and if they do not, they can describe how they relate or how similar to the communities addressed in the novel.
EMPATHY AND LOSS
Personally, I cannot identify with Lolly’s story. I never worried about gangs, significant violence, or negative racism. Reading Lolly’s story asked me to think about what it is like growing up in an entirely different setting and to look at what factors affect Lolly’s childhood. Even though I cannot identify fully with Lolly, his story is relatable. We all have experienced loss and bullying.
Even if a student is not the victim of bullying, they may be the aggressor or a witness. Lolly takes part in all aspects of bullying allowing a wide array of students to identify with him. Lolly can help teach children about why people bully (they are sad, their culture pushes them into those decisions) as well as positive ways to cope.
Additionally, Lolly can help children dealing with loss. He demonstrates both positive (Lego building and friend making) and negative (bullying/ being mean and bottling up his emotions) coping mechanisms. Not only do we see him dealing with the loss of his brother, but later, with the constant threat to his creations (needing to dismantle them), “safe place”, and even his friends (Rose and Vega).
As Lolly discovered, it is easier to be mean when you are sad. Many of the questions will focus on recognizing your own emotions and then recognizing others may feel the same and react from there.
What makes you sad? Does someone reacting to your race make you sad?
What does it feel like when you are sad? Do you feel like you have a stone on your chest like Lolly?
What do you do when you are sad? Do you do mean things like Lolly does?
What makes you feel better? Does it make the sadness go away for good? For a short time? Lolly finds being mean only helps for a short time. Do you know why what you do helps? If so, why does it?
Why do think others get sad? Have you noticed someone who is treated badly based on their race? Are you? How have you seen others react when they feel sad? Do they hurt others? Themselves?
For Lolly and Vega, their race and the circumstances that goes with that shape not only them, but their bullies as well; they even consider serious violence to deal with Harp and Gully. How do you react to bullies in your life? Why do you think bullies do what they do? Why do you think Harp and Gully bully Lolly and Vega? What parts of race and/or culture contribute to their actions?
Write a fictional (or remembered) story about a character dealing with their sadness. Think about why the character is sad. How do they react? How do the characters around them react? Does their race affect why they are sad? Does their race affect how they or the other characters react? What choices do they make? What choices should they make? What affects their decisions? Who/ what helps them deal with their feelings?
Build (or draw/paint/ sculpt) a safe place. Legos are recommended to fit with Lolly’s art, but other materials can be used as well (popsicle sticks pipe cleaners, clay). This can be a building, a bed, a fictional place (or space like a book). Think about what makes it safe for you. If you were a different race, could it still be your safe place? Can you share your space with someone else, like Lolly shared with Rose?
Build (or draw/paint/ sculpt) something (you can use the above prompt or any other focus). Do so knowing it will need to be dismantled/ broken. How does it change what you make? Do you ever worry about someone else breaking or taking your things? Why do they do you think they break/ take it? Do you see someone else worried about that? Why do they worry? Do their identity/or race have to do with it?
When Lolly is propositioned to join a neighborhood gang with the promise of protection, he faces the difficulty of making a significant choice that will affect his whole life. His best friend, Vega, is also approached with the same offer. Both have to work through the pros and cons of what their choice will mean for their whole life. Luckily, Lolly acknowledges that it is not the best thing for him or Vega, based on their experience with gang violence and the dangers that come with joining a gang, and convinces his best friend not to join either.
Not everyone is going to be faced with the same choice, but all people have to make important choices that are going to influence their future. Some will be small, but other ones will make extraordinary differences in their preceding years. The Stars Beneath Our Feet was written for ages 10 and up, so below are some questions and exercises to help our younger generations with making choices.
A Video to get you Started
Not only is this an endearing video, but it is also informative and persuasive. It is about the four different types of choices a person can make and which one is the best! Show this first to get your students inspired!
Discussion Questions for the Video
From the publishers, this PDF has more questions for group discussion broken into categories:https://images.randomhouse.com/promo_image/9781524701246_4971.pdf
What To Read Next
Piecing Me Together, Dear Martin, The First Rule of Punk, As Brave as You